Google often touts the massive traffic it drives to newspaper websites - 1 billion click throughs from Google News per month. But what if that traffic is all but worthless? was the heart of the debate Thursday in the opening session of the 2015 Newsroom Conference at PPF Media's Futuroom complex in Prague.
Santiago de la Mora, Head of Print Content Partnerships for Google News in Europe, cited the massive traffic figure. But Matt Kelly, Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror and mirror.co.uk, questions its value. "Some of our competitors have 30 million unique users a month, and you would think that any business that has 30 million unique users would be the happiest in the world. But they're not. They're worried," Kelly said.
The reason is simple: Users have been trained by Google and by the "cheap worthless technological news solutions out there" to graze many different websites for content with no value going back to the creator of that content. "Often they have no idea which website provided the information they found interesting." And, as a consequence, advertisers are not interested because there is no real audience in the traditional sense.
But Kelly doesn't blame Google for what he calls "parasitic consumption." "We are the ones who are to blame, for allowing ourselves to be talked into letting search engine optimization become the be-all and end-all of website design, for the short-term bragging rights of monthly unique visitors, an absurd metric that values one random visit from one random Google News visitor," he said.
If such practices continue, content value will continue to erode, he says. He recommends going back to creating traditional, loyal audiences. "Concentrate on what is unique and special about our content and worry less about disseminating it to the widest possible audience." He used the example of 3 AM, a gossip website, and Mirror Football, two standalone websites recently created by the Mirror to exploit audience interest in both topics. Most of the visitors - 90 percent in the case of 3 AM -- come through the sites' homepages.
"They're not finding us on Google necessarily, they're coming to us directly, on a daily basis. And that's what we used to call an audience, not people who just flick in and flick out," said Kelly. He was speaking in a session on paid content versus free content on the web. While the panellists were divided over the possibility of a wide-spread content model taking hold, they agreed that news companies would be pioneering such models in weeks to come.
"In next 12 months will be interesting," said Martin Moore, the Director of Media Standards Trust in the United Kingdom. "There will be a lot of people doing a lot of different things to make money, and it will be interesting to see what works and what doesn't. The starting gun has been fired for making money on the net."
The 2015 Newsroom conference is organised by the World Editors Forum. Follow the Forum on Twitter